To suggest that Barcelona are encroaching into crisis territory is always a foolhardy claim and it would not be an enormous surprise if the Catalan giants blast a hatful away to Deportivo de la Coruna this Wednesday with Messi resplendent and Suarez and Neymar back to their unplayable best. It would take a brave man to back against them whereas it’s just common sense to seek out the very best casino, poker and bingo offers around.
The fact presently remains though that Barca are enduring a woeful loss of all that usually makes them so imperious with three consecutive defeats that has seen their dominant La Liga lead surrendered in instalments and a hugely disappointing Champions League exit.
Following their 2-1 reverse to Valencia on Sunday the Spanish press have predictably gone into meltdown and there is even talk of head coach Luis Enrique being moved on this summer. This is the same man who took on the intimidating template of brilliance and glory laid down by Guardiola that had temporarily gone astray following his departure to Bayern and immediately guided the club back to trophies and worldwide acclaim. A possible runners-up spot in la Liga and a CL exit at the quarter finals stage would hardly amount to a successful campaign for Barca but is it even possible to discard a coach who led them to both just twelve months earlier?
Yet unquestionably this is not the same team that tore Real Madrid apart in the Bernabeu back in November or even the same side who did similar to poor old Getafe last month. The vibrancy has gone. The zip and imagination to the passing has vanished. The goals by the bucketload have dried up.
The post-mortem has been brutal and the undeniable truth that to any other eleven this recent loss of form and results would be considered merely a blip only adds up to a caveat. This is Barcelona. They don’t do blips.
So what – or who – is to blame? The simple answer is fatigue and it is here that Enrique must shoulder much of the responsibility. From August until March his side have been other-worldly in their supremacy scoring 86 goals in La Liga alone in just 31 games and among that relentless dominance there were numerous showboating 6-goal strolls where they have hardly needed to get out of third gear. Surely in such fixtures the likes of Neymar, Messi or Suarez could have been rotated and rested?
But if Barcelona don’t do blips Luis Enrique doesn’t do tinkering and now, as the season reaches the all-important business end, the stats are damning.
Their magical front three have played a total of 16058 minutes of first team action in the last year. Compare that with the front three of their nearest rivals and it’s hardly surprising the six priceless legs in question have become heavy of late. Real Madrid’s front three totals a full third less minutes of game-time while Atletico’s trio have enjoyed a similar pattern of work, rest and play.
Luis Suarez has played every single minute of every league and European match this season. Was he really needed as Barcelona romped with stylish ease past the domestic minnows who put up barely a fight? He will certainly be needed now with five games to go to save their season only there now seems only half the gas left in his tank.
No matter which way you look at it Enrique’s insistence on playing his strongest side at every opportunity has been a flawed strategy but among the condemnation there is an interesting irony at play. In the Premier League the most infamous tinkerman of them all Claudio Ranieri has been lauded to the heavens this term for sticking with the same starting eleven week in, week out. It could yet result in a staggering title triumph. Across in Spain that very same ethos might yet cost a man his job.